Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 1, 1961
NUMBER 5, PAGE 3,10-11

Must An Elder Have A Plurality Of Believing Children

Jerry F. Bassett, Antioch, Calif.

This article is written in an attempt to answer brother Lloyd Moyer's affirmation of the question posed by the title of his article, "Must A Man Have A Plurality of Believing Children to Qualify as an Elder?" In mentioning brother Moyer by name there is no intention to deal out a personal attack. On the contrary, since I will be dealing primarily with the arguments set forth in his article such mention is made only in the spirit of fairness that the reader may know the source of the quotations found herein, and thus be able to read and study them for himself. Further, I have no desire to rise up before the hoary head, or in brother Moyer's case, the bald head. However, despite my relatively young years I am almost, if not altogether, as bald as he, and so will take the liberty of this answer.

Attitude In Studying The Question

The question before us is one in which there has been, is now, and probably always will be much disagreement. Many faithful and able students and teachers of the Bible have taken opposing positions as to whether a man must have a plurality of children to be an elder, and to be sure there have been thought provoking arguments presented on both sides. In view of this fact it seems hasty, to say the least, for brethren to make one's position on this question a test of fellowship. On the contrary, there is no reason why brethren who disagree on it, even within a congregation, cannot work together as brethren to the glory of God and the advancement of his kingdom.

While some believe that the word children in 1 Tim. 3:4 and Tit. 1:6 can include the singular number there are brethren who conscientiously reject such a view, and contend that the use of the word in that context demands plurality. Obviously, brethren who hold the "singular included" view are in a position requiring forbearance because while all can agree that it is scriptural for a man with a plurality of children to serve as an elder not all can agree that a man with a single child can qualify. For brethren who believe that the singular is included to force a man into the work of an elder over the objections of faithful and sincere brethren would be a violation of their conscience and an unnecessary disruption of a congregation. On the other hand, for brethren who hold the "plurality a necessity" view to draw the line of fellowship against those who disagree with them by trying to force them to either line up in their thinking or else get out of a, congregation is just as wrong. Hence, in a congregation where both of these different positions exist let brethren consider first the authority of Christ and the good of the church, and choose a way that all can agree is scriptural while being mature enough to keep an open mind to discuss a controversial subject letting both sides of it be heard.

Stating The Position

Brother Moyer declares that, "There are three positions taken concerning the number of children elders should have. (1) Each elder must have a plurality of believing children (Christians). (2) An elder may be qualified if he has only one child who may or may not be a Christian. (3) A man may be qualified as an elder even though he has no children at all." He then states that he holds position number one. However, I hold none of these positions since I believe a man may qualify with one child, but agree that that child must be a Christian. Consequently, that leaves only one difference to be dealt with and that is the number of believing children an elder must have, that is, whether one will suffice or whether more than one is required.

Answering The "Plurality A Necessity" Position

First let us read the texts dealing with this question. "A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife.... One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity." (1 Tim. 3:2, 4-5) "....Ordain elders in every city....If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful (believing, ASV) children not accused of riot or unruly." (Tit. 1:5-6)

Brother Moyer states that, "God has ordained that before a man can qualify as an elder, he must have proven that he is a good ruler. God states that this must be proven by the way he rules his own house.... his house is composed of 'one wife' and 'children that believe.' To eliminate either one of these is to take from the word of God?' With this statement we heartily agree, but assert (and will prove) that the word children in this context includes the singular number. However, he then attempts to show that the word children demands the plural saying, "You never hear a man who does not have a wife talking about 'my wife; Neither do you hear a man who has only one child talking about 'my children.' Any man who would so talk would be considered plain silly." Surely this last sentence is not truly representative of the writer's conviction. With no apparent disapproval of the diction the Bible records the words of Sarah as she referred to her one son as "children." (Gen. 21:7) But who thinks that the Bible is a silly book?

Further, the illustration itself assumes that I Tim. 3 and Titus 1 describe a specific, given individual, but such is not true. If we grant that it would be unusual to say that a given man with one child has children, still this does not exclude the word children in the texts under consideration from including the singular because they do not describe a given, or specific individual, but rather describe the qualifications by which male Christians in general can be measured for a specific work. (1 Tim. 3:1) To illustrate, suppose one wished to rent a house, but would rent it only to a childless couple and made that fact known in his advertisement by the phrase "no children." If the ad were phrased in New Testament language it might read, "A couple desiring to rent this house seek a good home. The renters must have no children." What specific couple with one child reading this ad would answer it expecting to rent the house? The ad, like the New Testament, is not addressed to a specific, given individual, but to all persons who will read it. Therefore the word children does not describe the status of a specific couple, but of a specific relationship, i.e., childlessness, and is used in a generic manner so that when it is applied to a specific couple it comprehends both those with children in the plural and in the singular. In the same way why cannot the qualification "believing children" for the specific work of an elder be used in a generic way so that when applied to a specific individual it includes both the plural and the singular number?

The next argument stated is, "If the church of God, which the elder must care for, was composed of only one person, then a man with only one child would he qualified. But the church (congregation) which the elder must care for is composed of a plurality of children of God. The man who has never had the experience of dealing with a plurality of those in his 'own house' to whom he is equally related, is wholly unprepared to do so in the church of God as an elder." On the same point it is said, "....An elder must deal with a plurality of temperaments, dispositions, and personalities in taking care of the church of God; therefore, he must have demonstrated his ability to do these things." It is evident that brother Moyer himself recognizes the weakness of this argument by the insertion of the demand (and one that the contexts of 1 Tim. 3 and Tit. 1 do not even hint at) that a man must have ruled well a plurality of persons "to whom he is equally related." If the premise of the argument be granted, it is still evident that a man who rules well a house composed of one God-fearing wife and one child of the same character has already demonstrated his ability to rule over a plurality of persons. Hence, in order to contend for the necessity of a plurality of children by the "must have already ruled over a plurality to rule the church of God" argument it becomes necessary to eliminate consideration of the wife and demand that there be a plurality of persons to whom the elder is "equally related;" in short, children.

The Bible conveys its teaching to men in only three ways: (1) Expressed statement, or direct command; (2) Approved example; (3) Necessary inference. There should be no need to elaborate on this statement since brethren to whom this article is addressed generally agree with it and preach it. Now, if it is necessary for an elder to have ruled a plurality of people" to whom he is equally related" in order to demonstrate ability to rule the church of God, it must be taught in the New Testament in one of the foregoing ways. Obviously, neither 1 Tim. 3, Tit. I, nor any other part of the New Testament teaches such by approved example. Further, since it is true that the word children can denote the singular number neither 1 Tim. 3 nor Tit. 1 can be construed as expressed statements commanding such a demonstration. That leaves only one possible means, the necessary inference, and it is flatly denied that the statements in I Tim. 3 and Tit. 1 demand necessary inference that a man must have ruled a plurality of persons "to whom he is equally related." To be sure, one might make that supposition on the text and make inference from his supposition, but this is not Bible authority. For the inference to constitute Bible authority it must be a necessary inference, and such inference in this text is not necessary or essential to an understanding of it. How in the world can you get a necessary inference that one must rule a plurality of persons "to whom he is equally related" (children) out of "For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God" when the very word children referring to his house can denote the singular number? Such inference here is no stronger than the one Methodists make when they claim infants must have been in the households that received baptism in Acts 10 and 16, and then conclude that infant baptism is found in the Bible. Who is ready to bind such speculative thinking as Bible authority?

Further, the word plurality is used in this argument in a very vague and meaningless manner. Plurality denotes more than one, and comprehends any number above one no matter how large. A man with two children has a plurality to be sure, but a congregation composed of two hundred members is also a plurality. Is it so certain that a man who has ruled well one believing child has not demonstrated his ability to rule two hundred persons, while a man who has ruled well just one child more has demonstrated that ability? Can one child make up a span of experience involving one hundred and ninety-nine adults? Surely an affirmation of such is the product of nothing more authoritative than human opinion.

If the argument that a man with one child is qualified to rule a congregation of one person (recognizing the contradiction of terms) but not a congregation composed of a plurality (two or more) has any force at all it is that a man with two children is qualified to rule a congregation of two Christians, but not one composed of three Christians. What a spot such an elder would be in! He could not baptize anyone for fear of destroying the organization of the congregation by disqualifying the eldership.

In the course of his article brother Moyer admits that the word children in 1 Tim. 3:4 and Tit. 1:6 is used elsewhere in such way as to include the singular number, but argues, "Many will say that word will permit the singular in these texts (those referred to above, JFB) because the word does permit the singular in other passages. However, we must remember that the context and circumstances of a passage will determine what use of a word must be made; otherwise, we do violence to the word of God." With the statement in the latter sentence I agree. In fact, the only reason for going to the Greek at all and of showing that the word "tekna" is used elsewhere in the New Testament to include the singular is to demonstrate to those who base their contention for a plurality of children upon Thayer's scholastic opinion that even Thayer lists scriptures in which the same word obviously includes the singular. I am strongly persuaded that God's knowledge of the Greek language far surpasses that of any man, and that the context in which he has penned a word will clearly show its accurate usage.

In the next paragraph it is then stated, "Thayer lists a number of passages where the word (tekna, JFB) is used. The elder unto the elect lady (sing.) and her children (pl.) Would it be a scriptural exegesis of this passage to say that this lady had only one child? Brethren who say that because the word children denotes or represents the singular in other passages must also denote or represent the singular in 1 Tim. 3 and Tit. 1 would be forced to say that one child would fit the explanation of 2 John 1. The same could be said of verse 4 and 13 of 2 John. What brother is ready to say that one child would be correct in these verses?" We have already shown that the qualifications for elders in I Tim. 3 and Tit. 1 do not refer to a, specific, given individual but to a specific work, and are addressed to any man who may desire that work. However, the references from 2 John are addressed to a specific individual the status of whose family obviously was known at the time of writing. Hence, the passages are not parallel, and the argument is not valid.

A Man With One Believing Child May Be An Elder

My affirmation of this position will be brief and simply stated. It will involve three main points as follows: (1) The Bible uses the English word children to denote the singular number. (2) The Greek word "tekna" in 1 Tim. 3:4 and Tit. 1:6 can include the singular number. (3) The context of 1 Tim. 3 permits the singular use of the word children.

1. "And Sarah said, God hath made to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me. And she said, Who would have said unto Abraham, that Sarah should have given children suck: for I have born him a son in his old age. And the child grew, and was weaned: and Abraham made a great feast the same day that Isaac was weaned." (Gen. 21:6-8)

Sarah bore one son named Isaac, but in the text just quoted she referred to him as "children." Hence, the plural English word children is used in the Bible to denote the singular number.

2. The Greek word (tekna) for children in 1 Tim. 3 and Tit. I can denote, or include, the singular number. In fact it is translated "child" in Mark 12:19 in the American Standard Version.

In Matthew's account of the same incident recorded by Mark (above) the word is translated "children" in both the King James and American Standard translations.

Reading from the King James translation, "The same day came to him the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection, and asked him, Saying, Master, Moses said, If a man die, having no children his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother." (Matt. 22:24-25) This requirement of Old Testament law as expressed in the New Testament is that an Israelite was to leave children (tekna) upon his death. Consequently, if he died without having children his brother was to take his wife and raise up seed to him- "that his name be not put out of Israel." (Deut. 25:5-6) However, if an Israelite died leaving one son his name would not be put out of Israel. Therefore, the requirement for children would be met by the singular number.

From the foregoing we conclude that because the Greek word "tekna" in I Tim. 3 and Tit. 1, as well as its English counterpart "children" can be used to denote the singular number that it is proper to so use those words in any case where the context permits it.

3. The context of 1 Tim. 3 shows that a man is to demonstrate his ability to rule the house of God by ruling well his own house. The text says, "For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?" (v. 5) A man who rules well a wife and one believing child is a man who "ruleth well his own house," and has therefore demonstrated his ability to care for the church of God. If one object that the preceding verse says "children" we simply point out that the word can include the singular number, and that the context in which it is used demands only that one rule well his own house. Further, as stated above, a man with a wife and one child has a house, and, if he rules it well, has met the family qualification for an elder. Therefore, a man with a wife and one believing child (Tit. 1:6) may qualify for the work of an elder.